David J. Prior Convocation Center dedicated at UVa-Wise

Marcia Gilliam, chair of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise Board, said it best when she addressed the 250 people who gathered on Wednesday, April 25, to officially dedicate a 78,000 square foot arena in honor of the late Chancellor David J. Prior.

“Today, we are here to celebrate a life well-lived, a heart well-loved, in a place that will be well-used,” Gilliam said. “We are here to celebrate David J. Prior and the David J. Prior Convocation Center.”

        Mrs. Merry Lu Prior   Photo by Tim Cox    


Chancellor Prior died suddenly on Feb. 2, 2012. He was the seventh chancellor at UVa-Wise, and the College experienced remarkable growth under the seven years of his leadership. He was extremely proud of the facility that now bears his name. Chancellor Prior gave so many tours during construction that he kept the trunk of his car full of hard hats, Gilliam recalled.

“There could be no other name for this building,” said Marcia Gilliam, chair of the UVa-Wise Board. “We can all attest to how much David loved this place. During construction, he was here almost every day in his hard hat, watching it emerge from the ground.”

Gilliam told the crowd that she is proud that Chancellor Prior will be remembered and honored in such a meaningful way.

“The David J. Prior Convocation Center will be a part of our lives and the lives of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and the people of Southwest Virginia for years to come,” Gilliam added.

Delegate Terry Kilgore, who worked with the region’s legislators in the Virginia General Assembly to acquire the $30 million needed to build the center, called Chancellor Prior “a true friend and a wonderful individual” who will leave an impact on the community.

“We’re here to honor a great friend and a true Southwest Virginia leader,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore presented Mrs. Merry Lu Prior and UVa-Wise with a framed copy of the House Joint Resolution that authorized funding for the center’s construction in 2009. The resolution was signed by the region’s legislative delegation.

Mrs. Prior said she and her family have been overwhelmed by the support they have received from near and far.

“He did absolutely love this building,” Mrs. Prior said of her husband. “If he wasn’t home at 5 o’clock, I figured he was here, and it was usually true.”

Marvin Gilliam, Jr., a member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors and chair of the Board of Visitors’ Committee on the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, called Chancellor Prior a “forceful and successful advocate for The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.” The David J. Prior Center is the realization of Chancellor Prior’s vision, he added.

Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, said UVa-Wise exists today because the people of Southwest Virginia saw in its founding the creation of opportunity for their children. The David J. Prior Convocation Center also represents opportunity for enhanced prosperity in Southwest Virginia, she added.

“How appropriate that this building will bear the name of the man who was most responsible for bringing it to fruition,” President Sullivan said.

As wonderful as the center and the other buildings that were constructed and renovated during his chancellorship, Chancellor Prior’s legacy is more than bricks and mortar, she said.

“David will live on in the hearts and minds of the people in the College and all of Southwest Virginia,” she said. “His legacy is a legacy of hope, energy and boundless optimism for what the people in this College and this region can accomplish together.”

Children who attend events at the center will ask their parents about David J. Prior, she said.

“There are a lot of ways to answer that question,” she told the crowd. “Chancellor. Scientist. Community leader. Family man. All those are right answers to the question. But the parents could tell their child, ‘He built this building,’ and that would be the right answer, too.”